When you say "university," a lot of people picture old stone buildings covered with ivy--maybe even gargoyles! And it's true that there's a lot of history behind them: Université Laval (founded in 1663) was Canada's first French-language university, while University of New Brunswick, founded in 1785, is Canada's oldest English-language university. But what exactly are Canada's universities all about today?
Definition: Generally, universities are public (sometimes private) post-secondary institutions offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. Canada's education system is governed provincially, and the structure of universities may differ from province to province. However, universities are usually divided according to academic field into Faculties: for example, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Fine Arts. Sometimes these academic divisions are called Schools, and within a Faculty or School you will find individual departments. For instance, in the Faculty of Science you might find departments of biology, chemistry, geography, math and statistics, earth & planetary science, etc. They can be single-facility or multi-campus institutions, and while there are some field- faith- or culture-specific universities (for example, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Atlantic Baptist University or First Nations University of Canada), most Canadian universities offer more general education degree programs in a wide range of academic fields.
Demographics: In 2005/2006 an estimated 1, 047,700 students registered for classes in Canadian universities. Depending on size, a university might have between 800 and 50,000 undergraduate students, and a single large university can offer up to 840 undergraduate programs! With over 100 universities across the country, Canada's universities make learning as accessible as possible and attract a diverse student body. Many students apply directly from high school, while others transfer into university programs from career or community college diploma or certificate programs. A university will often have what's called an "articulation" agreement with a neighbouring college. Articulation means the university agrees to recognize the college's courses as credit towards a degree. Therefore, if you want to transfer from a community college to a university, you may be able to carry-over the credits you've already earned from the college. It's never too late to go to university, and you'll find your classes full of people of all ages from all walks of life. This is a kind of education in itself!
Delivery: What will university give you? Depending on the program, Canadian universities offer 3- and 4-year bachelor degrees as well as 1- to 2-year diplomas and certificates. Some disciplines also have the option of taking combined degrees, in which you graduate with two degrees in 5 years. Within these degrees students have options for taking a major, double major, major and minor or an honours degree, which means students can tailor their degree according to their interests and skills. University programs tend to be more academically-oriented and theoretical -- knowledge for knowledge's sake -- than the more career-oriented community colleges. Programs at university are not necessarily focused on preparing you for a specific job or career; rather, many university programs provide the kind of broad-based exploratory education that can be applied to a wide variety of potential careers or lead you to graduate school. But that doesn't mean it's all boring lecture. Today's universities work hard to make your education relevant and exciting through co-op options, international exchanges, field schools, and other kinds of participatory learning.
Different and distinctive: Universities are part of an old tradition, yes: the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the University of al-Karaouine in Morocco, founded in 859, as the world's oldest continuously-operating degree-granting university. However, today's universities are also dynamic institutions that adapt to meet the needs of the local and global society they serve. Part of their uniqueness lies in their combination of high quality and comprehensive academics with high-powered research. Some universities receive millions upon millions of dollars in research funding. Canada's universities contribute not just educated students, but innovative research and important discoveries to the world. What else do you get from university? The chance to start a new personal adventure! You can go to a university down the street or across the nation; you can live at home or stay in residence. University inevitably helps you grow as a person.
Deciding: So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in, then you have to find a university that offers it. Or, if you're undecided, take a look through a university's online course calendar to get some ideas of what's out there. You'll be surprised at some of the course offerings at today's universities! Other factors, such as scholarships, tuition costs, distance from home etc., may also be part of your decision. Campus Starter's database of universities in Canada can help get you started. Once you've spotted a program or university that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The online calendar, departmental websites and Registrar's or Admissions Office sites will give you a wealth of information. Feel free to call or even go visit-don't be shy. This is your education! So take the time to explore the rest of Campus Starter's section on universities in Canada for even more information to help you find the right university for you.